Dir: Rick Famuyiwa
You’d be forgiven for thinking Dope is a period piece. It opens with shots of Malcolm’s (Shameik Moore) room, filled with videotapes, a vintage Super Nintendo, Public Enemy posters. Dope also feels like a classic teen movie from the 80s. It’s very much set in the here and now, though. Malcolm and his buddies Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) gleefully remain out of step with the other kids at school. They worship 90s hip-hop and like ‘white shit’, like BMX, Donald Glover, and passing exams. They are total geeks. They live in an area of Inglewood, CA. known as The Bottoms. Violence is never far away. They have no interest in local gang culture, and try to stay away from it. But it pulls them in, no matter what.
Malcolm is soon recruited to be a go-between for Dom (A$ap Rocky) and Nakia (Zoë Kravitz). Malcolm agrees to this with innocence, mostly because he’s been crushing on Nakia for ages. When our geek heroes finally get invited to a party for cool kids, they somehow escape with a bag full of MDMA, a gun, and no clue of where it came from. They have to get rid of it, and fast.
Dope operates at a fast pace. It’s a comedy with an adventure element (the rush to get rid of the drugs results in some set pieces that are both funny and exciting) and also a social conscience. Malcolm wants to get into Harvard, knowing the odds are stacked against him simply because of where he’s from and the colour of his skin. The film can hit you hard with it’s message, particularly towards the end. It’s a good message, though, and a timely one.
The best thing about Dope is just how lively it is, and how funny it can be. Malcolm and his friends are inherently likable, and it’s a joy to spend time with them, particularly when it’s just the three of them goofing around. It’s an end-of-innocence tale that could have been much more grim, but writer/director Rick Famuyiwa keeps things relatively light.
There are some complaints to be made around pacing especially after an energetic first act. Some characters feel one-dimensional. Nakia, played by Kravitz, suffers from the latter charge. Kravitz is fine in the role, but she feels like little more than an object of desire for Malcolm. Her part could have been expanded, as her story mirrors Malcolm’s in many ways. Both are just trying to escape from the social restrictions they’ve been forced into.
Problems aside, Dope is still a bright, enjoyable experience. It already feels like a classic teen movie from years gone by.